“The Spirit doesn’t follow me, I concluded. I follow the Spirit.” This confession comes in the final chapter of Dr. A.J. Swoboda’s book, The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Our Faith. And there is plenty of wandering in this book. Swoboda doesn’t just write about wandering, he wanders as he writes: He reflects on topics including Sabbath, hospitality, gardening, the need for need, the subtle progression of sin, losing faith, entitlement, the relationship between blood sugar levels and marital happiness, the necessity of Church as a tether, why it is sometimes good that we can’t “feel” Jesus, and much more.
But don’t confuse wandering with randomness. This is not a pastiche of arbitrary thoughts. A nagging
The purpose of the wandering is to expose us — more through experience than direct description — to our true selves, the deeper nature of things and ultimately to a fresh encounter with God.
narrative emerges as the reader wanders along with Swoboda, a subtle incessant tug that refuses to allow Swoboda, or us, to linger in any one place for too long. We soon learn to recognize the purpose of the wandering is to expose us — more through experience than direct description — to our true selves, the deeper nature of things and ultimately to a fresh encounter with God. Even if that encounter is one of uncomfortable silence.
Swoboda asserts that God’s silence is not to be understood as a lack of God’s presence or attention. He argues instead that the silence from God we all experience at times is in fact a respectful response from God, even a loving one if we accept it as an invitation to deeper levels of faith and pursuit. This is an interesting position from a self-proclaimed Pentecostal.
But that dichotomy is a hallmark of Swoboda’s writing, here and in his previous books as well. It also plays out in his person. I know A.J. as a friend; he was also my professor while I was a student at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He writes from well-trod territory as a church planter and seminary professor in Portland. There is something both constantly restless and substantially rooted in his demeanor; any amount of time spent with him soon leads to a deeper awareness of the beauty where you are, yet longing for what it still could be. This is the kind of wandering that comes through in the book.
In the end, this is not an easy read. Its form takes some getting used to, and the topics are so varied you barely get comfortable with one before it's time to fold tend and move to the next. But there is a real reward in this. It allows the reader to experience the message as well as to read it. Wandering through these pages is well worth the effort, even if it does involve getting covered in a fair amount of dust along the way.
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.